Waaaaay back in 2014, my then agent (P) posted a link to an interesting NPR story about a woman bricklayer on Facebook. I can’t remember exactly what P said, but I think she mused that the article might provide inspiration for a story of some sort. I was intrigued and began to investigate bricklaying. At first I had no idea how to approach the subject – but as I was doing a bit of research, I was reminded just how beautiful brickwork could be. That’s when I thought a book about a bricklayer, a woman, might make for a visually interesting picture book. Except, of course, one generally wants a child protagonist in a picture book.
Right about the time I was doing my research into bricks and mortar, I was also listening to the radio and some coverage about Little League Baseball. One of the top pitchers at the time was a girl and members of the sports media were discussing whether or not the major leagues would ever see a female pitcher. I got to thinking that maybe my child protagonist might be a little girl and her mother a bricklayer.
I have never forgotten a conversation I once had with an editor and the suggestion that a whole story could be written using only verbs in single word sentences. No adjectives. No adverbs. No helpful little words like ‘the’ or ‘and.’ And, all active verbs. So, a story might be told like this:
Skip. Trip. Crash. Bleed. Weep. Hug. Smile.
Both bricklaying and baseball have their own, unique vocabularies, so I decided to try writing an absolute minimalist text that told the story of this mother and daughter as they each worked towards achieving a significant goal – the daughter pitching in a championship game and the mother seeing a big construction project through to the end. The plan was for the two stories to run along one beside the other. I sent a draft to P not long after she posted that link on Facebook and she quite liked the general idea, but sent the manuscript back for a bit of tweaking. I mused. I tweaked. I sent it back. And so it went, back and forth – first between me and P., then between me and Amy (you’ve read about Agent Amy before). Each round of edits changed the shape a little bit – a more cohesive story developed, but I was determined not to use any more words than necessary and so kept to the uncluttered (concentrated) language of the first draft.
When Amy felt we were ready, she sent it off to New York and Holiday House acquired the manuscript. PRETTY EXCITING!
BUT, I wasn’t done yet. The editor there asked for some changes including adding more conflict and challenge to each of the character’s stories and I reworked the manuscript a couple more times. Then, as happens in publishing, the editor moved on and the manuscript landed on a new editor’s desk at Holiday House. This editor had a slightly different (and very smart, as it turns out) vision for the arc of the story. Instead of having the two stories develop over a long time span, she suggested I try condensing the timeline to a single day. She also wanted more striking parallels between the mother and daughter as they made their respective ways through the day.
So, I reworked it all again a couple of times and – voila! A WAY BETTER story emerged at the end of all of that! Which, of course, is only really step one in the whole birthing-of-a-picture-book process. Now comes the tricky challenge of finding an artist who can bring the visual side to life. I am SO glad I don’t have to do any of that. Thankfully, the publisher, designer, artist and editor will do the heavy lifting as the book moves forward from here. I cannot wait to see the next stages as they unfold.
Of course, it’s quite possible that this next phase will take just as long or longer than the development of the text, but for anyone out there who thinks that just because there aren’t a lot of words in a picture book that writing one is a snap, think again! In the time it has taken me to get this far with that book, I have written half a dozen other, much longer books. Though I love the picture book format as a unique art form (and really, the very best picture books are exquisite works of art), I tell you, I think twice about embarking down the long and winding road of writing one!
**All images used in today’s post are from the do-what-you-want-with-them photo site, Unsplash.com